Sunday, July 12, 1998

Michelle Landsberg

p. A2.

Police owe explanation on Jane Doe

BREAK OUT the champagne and raise a glass to Jane Doe. Every Torontonian owes her thanks; every women and girl is a little bit safer because of her sheer, gutsy determination, through 12 long and painfully difficult years, to hold the cops to account for the way they failed to protect her from the Balcony Rapist.

Now that Toronto City Council has voted (51 to 1) to apologize to Jane Doe and to veto any possibility of an appeal, we can truthfully say that police and politicians have gone through a grassroots, anti-sexist educational experience.

The women on council spoke up with such concerted energy and focus on Jane Doe's behalf that most men who wanted to appeal backed off, thought a bit, and changed their minds.

The decision by Madame Justice Jean MacFarland, as most readers know by now, roasted the Toronto police for discriminating against Jane Doe because of their sexist biases, and using her as "bait" to catch the Balcony Rapist.

Take a moment, in the midst of celebrations, to remember two other brave "Jane Doe's" who paid a heavy price for fighting police wrongdoing. Robin Gardner Voce was pulled over for drunk driving at the age of 19, ordered into a police cruiser by two officers, driven to an underground garage and raped. She died by hanging at the age of 24, two month before her abusers were found culpable and fired from the force.

Fiona Stewart, a respected Toronto housing activist, was forced into sexual acts by then-Sergeant Brian Whitehead, who is still on the force. He pleaded guilty under the Police Act to "corrupt practices and deceit," was chastised for his "totally despicable abuse of power" and demoted. Stewart died an untimely death at the age of 36. (34)

Both Stewart and Voce had endured years of emotional abuse, stalling and efforts to make them look "crazy," by the very people to whom they turned for redress. It's a frighteningly lonely struggle when you confront the arbitrary power of the police.

In fact, much more than an apology is required here. For 12 years, through the reign of Police Services Commission chairs Clare Westcott, June Rowlands, Susan Eng, Maureen Prinsloo and now Norm Gardner, and mayors Art Eggleton, June Rowlands and Barbara Hall, a series of police chiefs (Jack Marks, Bill McCormack, Boothby) was telling the commissioners they had to battle Jane Doe in the courts -- at great cost and damage to Doe -- because the insurance company insisted. But there was no insurance company. The city is self-insured. Boothby and his predecessors must surely have known this. What did he know and when did he know it? What did the police commissioners know -- or fail to ask? Who is in charge here?

It's ludicrous for Boothby to claim, in view of such ineptitude, that the police are "on the cutting edge" in dealing with issues of violence against women. He would do far better to read the judge's decision in silence and humility before he speaks again.

Madame Justice MacFarland sets out a clear chronology of all the internal reviews, back as early as the mid-70s, in which the police admit they mishandle rape cases; abuse, threaten and disbelieve the victim, and fail to pursue the criminals, all because of sexist prejudice. Over and over again, the police swear they have changed their ways, or are going to. But in each successive review, further examples of sexist harm are sheepishly admitted.

Look at the investigation of Paul Callow, the serial rapist who attacked Jane Doe. Although these cops had been trained in handling sexual assault cases, their sloppy investigation was fraught with every sexist idiocy in the book.

They were upsettingly prurient about the victims' sex lives. They didn't believe one of the victims because she was "too calm," but they didn't warn the targeted women because "they might get hysterical" and warn off the rapist. Too calm or too hysterical -- seems like no woman is as believable, or as worthy of protection, as a man.

Rape is not a crime of sex, the judge stressed, but one of terror, dominance, control and humiliation. But police go on thinking it's all about sex. That's why they record sexual assaults separately from domestic violent crimes.

Had the police the wit to cross-file all crimes of violence against women, they might have interviewed Callow's battered ex-wife sooner, learned about his previous four-year sentence for serial rapes in B.C. and nabbed him in time to save some of his victims from attack.

These cops had been taught about "rape mythology" and yet they relied on a U.S. pamphlet called "Oliver Zink's Rape Cookbook." They decided that Callow, who raped women while holding a knife to their throats, fit the Zink definition of a "gentleman rapist" (is that oxymoronic or what?) who "didn't use profanity" and was "sorry afterward." That's why they felt so little urgency in pursuing him as he went on his rounds of wrecking the lives of five Toronto women.

The justice system shines today in a rare moment of understanding what sexual assault victims endure, and what the real world is like for women. City council can be proud of its role -- belatedly.

And Chief Boothby should not only apologize, he should explain promptly and fully, how those entrusted with management of the police of the city were so ill-informed for so long.

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Created: September 3, 1998
Last modified: September 3, 1998

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